As the first anniversary of the death of Osama bin Laden came to pass, European and American officials openly lamented the possibility of al-Qaeda operatives using creative ways to avenge their erstwhile leader’s demise. One idea provoking concern among national security experts surrounded the idea of using surgically implanted bombs inside the bodies of would-be terrorists.
Such a disturbing image reminds the world of the extent to which Islamist terrorists will go to attack the U.S. or its interests abroad.
The idea is not new. It is, however, a byproduct of changing strategies within the field of counterterrorism and national security.
As al-Qaeda has been obsessed with focusing on attacking the airline industry, it has found increased difficulty in doing so given rising standards in screening precautions throughout the U.S. and Europe.
Last summer, a Transportation Security Administration spokesperson stated, “Due to the significant advances in global aviation security in recent years, terrorist groups have repeatedly and publicly indicated interest in pursuing ways to further conceal explosives.”
What the U.S. counterterrorism community, state and local law enforcement, and the American public should take from this threat is not so much its specificity but rather the willingness of al-Qaeda to think far outside the box when devising new and unique ways to attack the American homeland.
Similarly, our nation’s national security infrastructure, from the federal level on down to state and local jurisdictions, should prepare for threats and contingencies that deviate from those most traditionally associated to terrorist activity.
Al-Qaeda has shown a remarkable propensity for altering its tactics during the past decade. Following the heavy coordination involved in planning and executing the September 11 attacks, al-Qaeda transitioned to new and innovative ways of circumventing traditional counterterrorism measures.
One method of doing so has involved the promotion of “open-source jihad”—in essence, using the Internet to distribute propaganda and instructive material to would-be acolytes. Moving away from operations requiring multi-party collaboration, al-Qaeda has since begun to inspire and empower the “do-it-yourself” terrorist.
This, of course, can prove a significant challenge to those tasked with preventing such activity from coming to fruition. It is, however, the reality of the world we live in.
Public awareness of the terrorist threat should remain as fluid as the threat itself. Situational awareness and anticipation represent the defining characteristics of a robust and effective counterterrorism platform. Focusing on what al-Qaeda may do is equally as important as focusing on what al-Qaeda has done.